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In 2018, Adelphi University made history by opening the country's first sensory room at a college or university. The sensory room provides a calming refuge for students and others in the campus community who are on the autism spectrum or have other sensory special needs.

Since then, Adelphi’s Bridges to Adelphi program has continued to grow and evolve the space to accommodate the ever-changing needs of its neurodivergent students as well as assist other universities in opening similar spaces.

“The sensory room allows our students to have some tools to alleviate hyperstimulation or further engage senses caused by hypostimulation,” said Diana Damilatis-Kull ’10, MA ’12, MA ’14, director of Adelphi’s Bridges to Adelphi program. “For some of our students, they feel their disability is invisible and have been encouraged to hide the visible aspects of themselves, which can be related to stimming [self-stimulatory] behaviors. This is why having a safe space for students to be themselves and engage in various stimming behaviors has taught them how to self-regulate.”

Adelphi’s Bridges program is dedicated to providing the highest levels of individualized academic, social and vocational support services to the University’s neurodivergent students. This year, the program is supporting 105 students. Bridges also offers career counseling services for its alumni.

This fall semester, for the first time since operating mostly virtually since March 2020, Bridges returns to a fuller in-person status, with students resuming on-campus coaching, mentoring, meetings and other services. With this return in mind, the Bridges team worked to obtain new items for the sensory room to welcome students back.

The newly acquired features include a pegboard, which lights up in various bright colors, a projector that displays calming shapes and colors, a color-changing hurricane tube that can assist with emotional regulation, kinetic gel pads, pillows, beanbags, stuffed animals, and weighted balls and blankets for sensory stimulation.

Some of the new items were provided by KultureCity, a nonprofit organization that assisted with the development of the room, while others were donated by Adelphi’s Office of Residential Life and Housing, therapists and other community members.

“I love the sensory room,” said junior Skylar Reiner, a student in the Bridges program. “It’s really relaxing and I love sitting in the beanbag near the light, reading my book. It makes me happy and calms me down.”

Meant to be a quiet place, the sensory room asks all students not to play music aloud or talk on cellphones. To help those who need to reduce noise further, Bridges now offers noise-canceling headphones for students that they can use while in the room or elsewhere in the Bridges space.

Currently, a maximum of eight students can use the sensory room at a time, to allow for social distancing and to ensure students can relax comfortably.

After the latest updates, Damilatis-Kull says Bridges is content with the room at the present, but staff members are always thinking of ways to improve it.

“Our goal is to continue to provide a variety of items to engage students with different sensory needs,” she said. “In the future, we’d like to purchase sensory tools, especially portable sensory items, which students can use to regulate their emotions wherever they happen to be.”

Adelphi’s sensory room has served as an inspiration for other colleges and universities to create ones of their own. According to Damilatis-Kull, Bridges provided guidance and support for Seton Hall University, Saint Francis University and Tarleton State University in developing their respective sensory rooms.

“I feel that the sensory room is a nice contribution to the Bridges lounge,” said Deanna Jave, a senior in the Bridges program. “It is the best place to go when you want to get away from the stress of life.”

In addition to the new sensory room items and in-person guidance, this fall, Bridges will resume its annual events—including a Halloween party, holiday party, talent show, virtual 5K and yard sale.

Learn more about the sensory room and the Bridges to Adelphi program.

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